Posts Tagged ‘IFFR’

Rei (2024) IFFR 2024

Dir/scr: Toshihiko Tanaka. Japan, drama 189′

Rei is a kanji character that can represent a variety of meanings. The genderless name is therefore a really good title for this complex but rather overlong (at over three hours) feature debut from Toshihiko Tanaka which won the Tiger prize at this year’s 53rd Rotterdam Film Festival.

Rei is about Matsushita Hikari, a self-contained thirty-something woman whose comparatively uncomplicated life in the corporate world contrasts with the trials and tribulations of her friends in a series of interconnecting dramas that highlight – albeit reductively – Japanese attitudes towards disability and, in particular, those with special needs and heightened sensibility. On a deeper level Tanaka also explores human connectedness along the lines of that well-worn phrase: “No man is an island”: It’s only through knowing each other that we really come to understand ourselves.

We first meet Hikari (Takara Suzuki) and her deaf landscape photographer friend Masato (played by Tanaka himself) in the wintery countryside surrounding Tokyo. Hikari’s life lacks a certain excitement and she seeks this out in creative scenarios. Hikari is also drawn to an actor called Mitsuru (Keita Katsumata) who she meets through her love of theatre and through a flyer where she has discovered Masato’s work. Finding his artistry compelling she asks him to take her portrait in the snowy setting. Another friend of hers Asami (Maeko Oyama) has a three-year-old daughter with special needs. Asami is dealing with the additional pressures of a husband who is having an affair with a nurse (who also cared for Masato’s mother).

Hikari is fascinated by Masato and the two share exchanges on SMS and email to get over the communication barrier. Asami is so impressed by Masato’s portraits of Hikari she commissions him to photograph her own family and these extraordinary pictures capture something that words can never do about the state of her relationship with her husband. But despite his unique and arcane talents Masato is sadly seen as a flawed character due to his hearing issues in this dense narrative in a drama that marks Toshihiko Tanaka out as a rising star in the film firmament. @MeredithTaylor



Steppenwolf (2024) IFFR 2024

Dir: Adilkhan Yerzhanov | | Kazakhstan/Russia,102′

A hyper violent civil war rages across an apocalyptic landscape where gender conventions prevail in classic Western style: the men are the killers. One traumatised woman seeks to preserve life, that of her child, predictably kidnapped by organ traffickers (a ‘nice’ modern twist).

After his exquisite 2018 feature The Gentle Indifference of Life and 2022 thriller Assault, Yerzhanov returns to a vast wilderness for another Steppe legend love story: that of a mother for her child. The intrepid Tamara is determined to sacrifice her own life and safety to safeguard that of her son. In this endeavour hires an investigator, a reformed ex-convict who goes by the name of Steppenwolf and bears a canny resemblance to the mythological character, literally the ‘wolf of the Steppes’. Complete with shaggy hair, clear blue eyes and a swaggering gait he’s not a man to be underestmated as his victims soon discover to their chagrin.

Threatening and pacifying his female companion by turns, Steppenwolf is certainly menacing but also faintly ridiculous. Committed to these endless brutal murders, tersely executed with an axe or rotary cutting device, Steppenwolf goes about his business while Tamara remains meek and submissive, reduced to a mumbling, monosyllabic communication. At one point she seems to have died, lips turning purplish, but no, this woman is the heroine of the piece, an indomitable martyr empowered to withstand endless pain and emotional suffering to achieve her aims. Stylish and formally striking, the hostile landscape mirrors the film’s bloody violence – but a little more dark humour would have been welcome. Hard-going for the faint of heart. @MeredithTaylor



Dalva (2022) Rotterdam Film Festival 2023

Dir: Emmanuelle Nicot; Cast: Zelda Samson, Alexis Manenti, Fanta Guirassi, Sandrine Blancke, Jean-Louis Coulloc’h; Belgium/France 2022, 85 min.

Emmanuelle Nicot wrote and directed this audacious first feature about a sensitive twelve-year old girl, the titular Dalva (Sansom), who has been sexually groomed by her incestuous father, the two sharing an intimate and outwardly loving relationship, more like lovers rather than father and daughter.

Nicot’s skills as a casting agent are key to her successful drama: Samson is totally convincing in the role of the outwardly shy and vulnerable young girl who has the assured gracefulness of a Geisha girl, knowing how to play every man she meets. Dressed titillatingly in lacy black dresses, drop earrings and stockings, she has clearly been a target for paedophile clients and the film’s violent opening scenes witness her being forcefully separated from her father (Coulloc’h) who has literally kept her to himself, moving rapidly from place to place, to escape the authorities, and her mother (Blancke).

She arrives, kicking and screaming, at the foyer for vulnerable females demanding to be re-united with her father. When she is told by her new carer Jayden (Manenti) that he abused her sexually, she claims: “But I never said no”. Isolated from the other girls, she tries several times to escape, and these scenes picture her negotiating walls in slinky evening dress. Brought back to the home, she befriends Samia (first timer Guirassi) who has been raised by a negligent sex-worker mother, the two offering each other complementary tips on how to survive the rough and tumble of the institution.

But Dalva has not given up the idea of seeing her father again, and she tries to manipulate Jayden with inappropriate sexual overtures, trying to seduce him into being a second father figure. Finally, the authorities give in, and Dalva is allowed to visit her father in jail, accompanied by Jayden. In a moving vignette, her father admits to being a paedophile abuser, destroying Dalva’s world for good.

Nicot directs with assurance, guiding Samson through the often upsetting confrontations. DoP Caroline Guimbal captures the ‘female gaze’ with her delicate images of Dalva’s interpretation of mature womanhood, keeping to the role her father has groomed her for, to perfection. It’s a performance within a performance. The close-ups of Dalva are particularly evocative, Samson has that rare ability of conveying strong emotion without over-acting, quite an achievement for one so young.


Endless Borders (2023) IFFR 2023

Dir.: Abbas Amini; Cast: Pouria Rahimi Sam, Mino Sharifi, Behafarid Ghaffarian, Naser Sajjadi Hosseini, Ghalem Sakhi Nazari | Iran/Czech Republic/Germany 2023, 111 min.

Iranian writer/director Abbas Amini (The Slaughterhouse) explores personal and political struggles in this complex drama set in a remote village in Balochistan near the Iranian-Afghanistan border. Shifting alliances dominate, with the main protagonist having to face a truth he had denied for a long time.

Ahmad Vaezi (Sam) has been exiled from his native Iran for political reasons. Now living in a small Afghan community that comes under regular scrutiny from the border forces he serves as both teacher and doctor. But Ahmad has got off lightly. His partner Nilofar (Sharifi) has just been released on probation after a two-year imprisonment, accused of similar offences. Clearly the separation has put their relationship under strain and they struggle to contact one another.

A fresh wave of controversy confronts Ahmad one day when sixteen-year old Hasebah (Ghaffarian) desperately asks him for help to escape the village with Balaj (Hosseini), a local young man who has fallen in love with her. She also reveals that, on account of her father’s bankruptcy, she was forced to marry the village elder – who Ahmad had always assumed to be her father. To complicate matters further, family honour dictates that the elder’s son will kill Hasebah if she is caught trying to leave.

Despite the danger, Ahmad and the two lovers flee to Tehran where the teacher’s life becomes even more complicated when he is accused by Nilofar’s father of putting her life at risk due to his actions. The father has, meanwhile, given his house as security for Nilofar’s bail. This puts further pressure on Ahmad and his partner, and they decide, along with Balaj and Hasebah to continue their onward journey to freedom in Turkey, via a perilous trafficking arrangement, Ahmad insists to the reluctant Nilofar that he only joined the political resistance group out of love for her. At a dangerous river-crossing they are ambushed by the border patrol, and Ahmad is forced to make a life defining decision.                       

Religious affiliations seem to loom large in this fraught environment where once again it causes most of the conflict, not only socially but personally. The villagers are against the Taliban, not so much for their treatment of women, but because they follow another religious law. At the height of the couples’ dramatic escape into Turkey, Balaj refuses to even wear clothes that are associated with another Islamic group, even when his life is in danger. 

DoP Saman Lotfian follows the action with his handheld camera, focusing on middle distance shots or close-ups. Ahmad is a complex main character who belies his ‘holier that thou’ persona in a mature and analytical feature full of contradictions and unexpected twistsAS


Luka (2023) International Film Festival Rotterdam

Dir/Wri: Jessica Woodworth | Cast: Jonas Smulders, Geraldine Chaplin, Jan Bijvoet, Sam Louwyck | Drama, 94′

Luka is a dystopian desert phantasy, re-creating a Spartan military state ruled by fear and paranoia, sometime in the distant past. This striking first single outing for Belgium/American director-writer Jessica Woodworth (King of the Belgians) is based on the novel ‘Il deserti dei Tartari’ by Dino Buzzati. The focus is a talented young sniper desperate to see active service in the defence of his country in an impending invasion, the threat of which drives our anticipation forward.

Gripping in the early stages, not least for its visual allure, the film is unable to sustain this momentum for the entire running time. But the highlight is DoP Virginie Surdej’s symmetrical, architectural compositions and her sepia-tinted black & white images which make Luka a memorable and captivating interpretation of the classic novel.

Jonas Smulders is an appealingly boyish hero as Luka the young marksman who, after wishing his mother a fond valedictory in the film’s opening scenes, strides across Steppe-like open terrain to serve as sniper in the Kairos Fort, in the desert of the “North”. There’s something of David McCallum’s ‘Illya Kuryakin’ in Smulders’ feral enfin-like features, making him rather an androgynous romantic hero. But his impatience for battle gives him a steely resolve that tempers this puppyish charm: clearly he is keen to get cracking on the battlefield.

In this testosterone-charged atmosphere the sniper soon becomes close to Konstantin (Tadevossian), who is a listener, trying to detect – with his rather basic electronic equipment – any attack by ‘the North’. But Luka increasingly warms to Geronimo (Schrevens), the son of one of the military leaders. And when Konstantin detects a possible attack from ‘the North’, Luka’s superior sniping skills see him being chosen by the General and Raf (Bljvoet), the most fanatical of the leaders, to go out into the desert and destroy the enemy.

Luka has the right to select a companion, and he goes for Geronimo. The men walk into the desert where they catch sight of a horse. On their return to the fort, where Raf questions their findings. Konstantin is accused of deliberately misinterpreting his data, and Geronimo for imagining the horse. Geronimo and his father escape into the desert, while Luka is sentenced to ghosting, a sadistic punishment involving death by water deprivation and solitary confinement. Luckily, a new alarm saves his life and soon he is out in the desert again chasing phantoms, at least for a time.

Buzzati’s writing is close to Stanislaw Lem, and there are echoes of Tarkowsky’s Stalker, but the difference here is that Buzzati paints the picture of a semi-fascist military state, with the protagonists’ distinct idiosyncrasies. In this way, a narrative can develop, making the circumstances secondary – very much the opposite of Tarkovsky’s approach of a sprawling narrative with the destructive action becoming the primary point of the feature.

Geraldine Chaplin gives an enticing performance as the General, and Smulders offers intrigue as the naïve pawn in a deadly game. The film could benefit from a tighter  middle-section to make it more punchy in its appeal as a dramatic narrative and an essay on power structure relying on a mirage-like enemy. AS


Scarecrow | Pugalo (2021) IFFR 2021

Dir: Dmitri Davydov | Cast; Valentina Romanova-Chyskyyray, Anatoly Struchkov, Artur Zakharov, Sargylana Lukovtseva | USSR Drama 72′

Sakha director Dmitry Davydov, a rising star internationally, has built an intriguing drama with horror genre elements on the basis of this frosty story about a social outcast ostracised by uncompromising locals whose obdurate demeanour reflects their dour surroundings and harsh outlook on life.

A modern day fable of witchery is wrapped round an astonishing central performance from Valentina Romanova-Chyskyyray who plays a healer who lives in the vast, snowy expanse of the Sakha Republic in Russia. Ostracised by the local population despite her proven supernatural powers, she is clearly a neutralising conduit of disease and toxic negativity, suffering grotesquely- or even entering a trance-like state each time she treats a patient, making this feel authentic as well as intriguing and visually arresting with its evocative occasional score that features the ‘krymppa’, a rustic violin-like instrument.

Enigmatic, spare on dialogue and immaculately photographed in picturesque widescreen long takes and in intimate close-up by Ivan Semyonov in a monochrome palette of taupe and snowy greys, Scarecrow is one of the strongest, recent examples of the flourishing Sakha cinema, where local makers stray beyond the confines of Russian cinema, creating their own cinematic identity.

Like many other Sakha makers, Davydov is a self-taught director who combines serious drama with genre elements, Sakha folklore and landscapes. The disturbing scene, shot in one long take, in which the troubled lead takes great gulps from a vodka bottle whilst crying, is haunting, mesmerising and memorable. MT


Death on the Streets (2021) IFFR 2021

Dir.: Johan Carlsen; Cast: Zack Mulligan, Katie Folger, Chris Abel, Tammy Hansard Hernandez; Germany/Denmark/Greece 2020, 93 min.

Homelessness has reached a critical level in these pandemic times where businesses have simply disappeared overnight leaving those previously gainfully employed on the scrap heap.

Danish born director/co-writer Johan Carlsen looks at the plight of Kurt a casual worker in rural northern Illinois. Death of the Streets shows how Kurt simply falls out of a society that doesn’t need him any more. Playing out like a research project the film is done with great dignity and understatement.

Kurt (Mulligan) is a tractor driver helping with the maize harvest. He loses his job at the end of the season in a “don’t ring us, we’ll ring you” fashion. There is an offer of a loan. But Kurt is perplexed, he never bargained for this to happen. His caring wife, Sarah (Folger) looks after the couple’s two boys, but Kurt is deeply affected by his new unemployed status and changing dynamic in his role as former head of the family. Old wounds also open with his father-in-law (Abel) who has never respected him, believing that his attractive and intelligent daughter deserved better.

The family has a whip round but Kurt rejects their offer of help. His mother (Hernandez) turns to God asking Kurt to join her in church. But Kurt is adamant. He refuses to take any “hand-outs”. A job interview comes up in the insurance business. But Kurt is clearly not a salesman and has difficultly presenting himself well at interview.

Shamed by his loss of face, Kurt packs his bags and makes his way to Atlanta City where he sleeps under the piers, his mental health gradually going down hill as a chasm opens up between him and his family. Somehow Kurt seems pre-destined to end up a drifter. Like a puppy-dog, he’s willing and keen but unable to understand the basic structures of society, raising questions about his own childhood upbringing. Even at the end of the film his face looks totally unmarked – as if nothing has happened.

DoPs Eric Ferranti and Jide Tom Akileminu creates a great sense of place in the hostile environment seen from Kurt’s POV as he drifts into nothingness, echoed in a bleached out aesthetic eventually morphing into black and white. Death on the Streets is not a political movie, more an intense study chronicling a soul who falls through the cracks of a society he struggled to join. AS


Take Me Somewhere Nice (2019) *** MUBI

Dir: Ewa Sendijarevic | Drama | 91′

In her impressive debut feature, Ewa Sendijarevic takes a fresh and playfully cinematic approach to this semi-autobiographical expression of ‘positive experience of loneliness’ for the average multi-cultural person. To put it more simply, her central character Alma has grown up in Holland from Bosnian parentage and returns there to visit her father for the first time, with the gaze of an alien. Although this theme has been done before, most recently in a radical way by Jonathan Glazer in his mystery thriller Under The Skin, Take Me Somewhere Nice is a much more down to earth affair, enriched by its stunning visual approach and minimal dialogue. Alma is an Alice in Wonderland like character who goes on a Kafkaesque journey to visit her origins. She is accompanied by her cousin and his best friend, both from Bosnia, both unemployed and just as “care free” as Alma herself.

This triangle of characters represents a West-East European power balance between the privileged, and those left behind; the bitter and the opportunistic, the ones who would like to join the West and the ones who actively turn their back to it. This tension between the three bright young things occasionally becomes recklessly sexual, at other times gently attempts to forge a meaningful connection. Each frame completes the brightly coloured jigsaw of Alma’s eventful story, and even when it ventures into darker themes – a road kill incident and beach attack – still feels hopeful and energetic, in contrast to the clichéd portrayals of migrant misery and put-upon womanhood in the beleaguered Balkans.

Sometimes Sendijarevic inverts expectations, making us uncomfortable in a Brechtian way, and more acutely aware of traditional approaches the buzzy subject matter. TAKE ME SOMEWHERE NICE is also a film about using our contact with nature and the animal kingdom to celebrate being alive and being present in our world, wherever we lay our hats. Spirited performances and a lively colour palette make this journey fun and highly watchable. Sendijarevic believes in the Romantic – and laudable – idea that in “the moments we spend alone, preferably in nature, we can connect to our true selves in a spectacular way”. a sentiment that holds true now more that ever. A delightedly inventive and lively first feature. MT



God of the Piano (2019) Digital release

Dir: Itay Til: Cast: Naama Pries, Ron Bitterman, Shimon Mimran, Andy Levi | Drama | Israel 80′

Anat is a young woman who will let nothing get in her way, least of all accidents of nature, in this tightly-scripted and quietly chilling first feature from Israeli director Itay Tal. Prepare to be shaken and stirred.

This study of obsession brings to mind the so-called ‘tiger’ mothers who are so focused on achieving their goals, the well-being of their family is secondary, as long as everything goes according to plan. Sadly these women often come from high-performing backgrounds themselves, and such is the case with pregnant concert pianist Anat (a superbly slick Naama Pries from Laila in Haifa), whose waters break while she’s on stage.

Anat ignores this call of nature until the end of her piece, the liquid slowly pooling round her feet. But when she discovers her chortling baby has hearing difficulties, she takes the sinister step of swapping him over with another child in the hospital birthing room.

Control freaks have been vividly portrayed in arthouse cinema of late, recent examples are Calin Peter Netzer’s Golden Bear winner Child’s Pose (2013) where a mother does her utmost to change the course of law for her son. Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher (2016) also reworks this thorny theme with a similar cold visual aesthetic and unlikeable central character. In fact, Tal’s film is full of unpleasant types, cyphers whose means to an end makes them frighteningly real in these success-focused times.

Anat’s family are all accomplished musicians including her new son Idam, who plays like a professional pianist from the early scenes – despite his lack of genetic connection with the rest of the family. Her son’s music career gradually becomes the focus of Anat’s days, coaching him as he learns to compose and perform. Even sex with her husband goes out of the window (she is seen half-heartedly pleasuring him with her hands) as she transfers her amorous efforts to composer Shimon Mimran – the only character here with charisma – who gamely offers to help the boy with his composing.

Sex with Mimran seems to satisfy Anat more than anything else in her life: it’s as if she’s finally been fed after starving for years. But rather than trusting her intuition and taking things further with this interesting man, Anat suppresses her own needs and rushes off to promote her son to the next stage of his career.

Alarm bells ring when the local hearing-impaired centre tries to get in touch, Anat eradicating any further communication from them, even visiting the clinic to make sure they strike Idam’s records from their books. Anat’s father is a fiercely competitive man and his reaction to Idam’s talent is quite chilling: rather than encouraging the boy he seethes with anger at Idam’s perfect performance of a piece he wrote at the same age. Although we cannot like Anat’s character, we start to understand her motivations, and the strain she’s under to compete in this unforgiving family environment. A slick and enjoyable thriller and a brilliant debut from Itay Tal. MT



Une Jeunesse Dorée (2019) *** IFFR Rotterdam 2019

Dir: Eva Ionesco | Drama,

Writer-director Eva Ionesco made her debut in Roman Polanski’s horrifying drama The Tenant in 1976. Since then she has made her way into directing. Her second feature is an enjoyable if hollow semi-autobiographical hark back to her disco days at one of Paris’ most legendary nightspots in the late 1970s.

The Palace nightclub was synonymous with stylish couture from Karl Lagerfeld, St Laurent and Missoni. It was also the time of Human League, Grace Jones and Brian Ferry, And this where our young impoverished heroine Rose (Galatea Bellugi) comes to dance with her artist boyfriend Michel (Lukas Ionesco). Both are looking to make their name in the world, and finance the rest of their lives. And this is where they run into decadent ‘beau-monde’ duo Lucile (Isabelle Huppert) and Hubert (Melvil Poupaud), in their fifties and eager for new experiences. Fired up by a cocktail of youth, cash and charisma, the couples feed off each other in an orgy – both literal and metaphorical – of coke and champagne-fuelled sexual encounters – decked out in the latest couture – and Isabelle Huppert is as sexy as her much younger counterpart Bellugi. After rocking the dance floor they all repair back in a Jaguar to Lucile’s soigné chateau in a the country where the young ones are eager for money and contacts, while the older pair paw them with unwanted sexual advances, to spice up their flagging libidos. 

This retro drama is very much a family affair, and it makes for an entertaining drama, if rather glib in its louche emptiness and threadbare script. Ionesco deftly captures the Seventies zeitgeist, but narrative-wise the drama plays out with no surprises. And while Huppert holds court with her sterling support, Poupard also holds sway with his graceful nonchalance, the young two providing alluring eye candy as the doomed and clingy lovers, caught between a desire to succeed and a need to be loved. 

Une Jeunesse Dorée feels slightly overlong at just under two hours, but despite the flagging plot line, expert camerawork comes courtesy of Claire Denis regular Agnès Godard, and there are cossies to die for including ubiquitous sequins and floor length furs from the designers Jurgen Doering and Marie Beltrami. The girls lie back lustfully in Agent Provocateur lingerie and Huppert even flashes her tits and utters outré lines such as: “Hubert has a very beautiful penis, and he knows how to use it”. Now that’s a showstopper, if ever there was one. MT


Bangla (2019) *** Rotterdam Film Festival 2019

Dir: Phaim Bhuiyan | Drama | Italy | 90′

Phaim Bhuiyan’s endearing romcom Bangla has already been likened to last year’s standout hit The Big Sick, and it’s easy to see why. Strangely I actually preferred Bangla for its unassumingand disarming central character. And although the film lacks the star power of The Big Sick, this tale of young Bengali Muslim Phaim – who also directs from a script based on his experiences as a second-generation Italian, about falling for a feisty young Italian girl – is watchable and even quite funny, despite the rather clunky awkwardness of the twenty-something himself.

Directing-wise Phaim clearly has a lot to learn but he makes for a decent lovelorn ingenue alongside  the spunky Asia (a convincing turn from Carlotta Antonelli) who is instantly charmed by his cool reticence – which actually masks his desperate desire to get closer and more personal. He describes himself at one point as: “something in between, like a cappuccino – 50% Bengali, 50% Italian and 100% a Torpignattara guy”, referring to a melting pot of different nationalities in that corner of the Italian capital, and he clearly loves his home town and doesn’t want to move to London when his parents need to up stakes and join a new family business.  .

But his observations and nouse is spot-on for a cool Roman dude. And we certainly feel for him when he struggles to explain his feelings of lust and love for this totally unsuitable and forbidden playmate in the shape of Asia. Clearly, Phaim is caught between his own instincts and his those of his   traditional parents. The scenes showing his love hate relationship with his sister work particularly well and there’s a vulnerability and truth to their sibling rivalry that certainly rings true. There are also some nods to rampant racial prejudice that are sadly all too familiar. By no means perfect but a promising first effort, Bhuiyan takes his own story and develops it with this decent debut that has an honesty to it and some really funny lines. Let’s hope his next project builds on his promising start with with Bangla. MT


Edgar Pêra – A genuine original | Retrospective IFFR 2019

There is no filmmaker like Edgar Pêra (b.1960). His work may be an acquired taste but it is always inventive and Avant-garde referencing his heroes in creative ways and keeping the past alive. The Portuguese auteur often pays tribute to Dziga Vertov, Branquinho da Fonseca and Fernando Pessoa – but always in an ingenious way – transforming their ideas into bizarre and refreshing features, some will screen in a retrospective at the Rotterdam International Film festival 2019

Edgar Henrique Clemente Pêra first studied psychology, but soon realised his vocation in Film at the Portuguese National Conservatory, currently Lisbon Theatre and Film School.  But it was the work of Russian director Dziga Vertov that made him pick up a camera in 1985, and his strange visual style and quirky dark humour found an outlet in twisted arthouse fare that is completely unique. He has made over 100 films for cinema, TV, theatre dance, cine-concerts, galleries, internet and other media, and his latest mystery drama Caminhos Magnetiykos screens at Rotterdam International Film Festival in 2019.

His love of music influenced his work in the mid 1980s, and he filmed Portuguese rock bands in a Neo-realist, ‘neuro-punk’ style. In 1988, Pêra shot a film in the Ruins of Chiado, a neighbourhood in the heart of Lisbon, decimated by a large fire that year. In 1990 Reproduta Interdita was shown at the Portuguese Horror Film Festival, Fantasporto. In 1991, his documentary short raised the profile of Portuguese modernist architect Cassiano Branco – The City of Cassiano, (Grand Prix Festival Films D’Architecture Bordeaux). But from thereon his penchant for the weird and radically different took over.

In 1994, Pêra’s first fiction feature Manual de Evasão LX 94/Manual of Evasion (for Lisbon 1994 Capital of Culture), channelled the aesthetic legacy of soviet constructivist silent films, with what the filmmaker called “a neuro-punk way of creating and capturing instantaneous reality”. The film has divided the critics in Portugal and abroad. It will be also screened at the retrospective Rotterdam Film Festival 2019.

In 1996 Edgar Pêra started an ambitious project which would take four years to edit. The surreal comedy feature entitled, A Janela (Maryalva Mix)/The Window (Don Juan Mix), premiered at the Locarno Festival in 2001. From then on Pêra’s work, veered towards a more emotional style, but still kept the emphasis on non-realist aesthetics and eccentric humour. Pêra’s 2006 retrospective at Indie Lisboa won the festival prizes for Best Feature, Best cinematography and Audience Award: Running at just over an hour,: Movimentos Perpétuos/Perpetual Movements is a cine-tribute to legendary Portuguese guitar composer and player Carlos Paredes. Critic and programmer Olaf Möller wrote that “Pêra is too different from everything which we regard as ‘correct’, ‘valid’ within the culture of film, ‘realistic’ in a cinematic, socio-political way. Put more precisely: Edgar Pêra is different from everything that we know about Portugal”.

O Barão  is an adaptation of Branquinho da Fonseca’s short story, premiering in 2011 at the International Film Festival Rotterdam it won the Gold Donkey Award. In 2011 he also started experimenting with the 3D format. His most controversial film yet, Cinesapiens is a short drama, a segment of 3x3D , described by our critic Michael Pattison as “an assaultive triptych that caused walkouts when it premiered at Cannes in 2013”. It forms part of a trio with two other films by Jean-Luc Godard and Peter Greenaway at La Semaine de la Critique in Cannes.

In 2014 Pêra directed two 3D films, Stillness and Lisbon Revisited. Stillness was considered by many as  “astonishingly offensive”. Lisbon Revisited, with words by Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, premiered at the Locarno Festival. Pera’s first commercial success came in 2014 with pop comedy feature Virados do Avesso/Turned Inside Out. This was followed by Espectador Espantado/The Amazed Spectator, a “kino-investigation about spectatorship” which premiered at Rotterdam Film Festival, 2016 and was also the title of his PhD thesis. In 2016 his Delirium in Las Vedras, about the Portuguese Carnival in Torres Vedras, premiered in Rotterdam and São Paulo 2017.  And in 2018, O Homem-Pykante Diálogos Kom Pimenta, about the poet Alberto Pimenta, was shown for the first time at IndieLisboa. Caminhos Magnéticos/Magnethick Pathways, starring Dominique Pinon, will also be shown during his retrospective this year at Rotterdam International Film Festival.


The Return (2018) | **** London Korean Film Festival

Dir: Malene Choi | Writer: Sissel Dalsgaard Thomsen | With Thomas Hwan, Karoline Sofie Lee | Doc | Denmark | 85′

Two Danish-Korean adoptees return for the first time to the country of their birth in search of their origins, in this refreshingly thoughtful and quietly devastating arthouse documentary debut from Malene Choi. Based on her own experiences THE RETURN is a stunningly photographed and touchingly resonant meditation on destiny and identity, nature and nurture. Muted visuals and Philip Nicolai Flindt’s subtle sound design lend a dreamlike quality of mystery and alienation to this contemplative study of two young people uprooted from Denmark, the country that has become their home and where they have grown up, and returned to their original their birth lands. Despite this yearned for homecoming, they somehow feel disorientated and thrown into confusion in the search for their biological parents. Both internalise their feelings into discrete expressions of loss, anxiety and sadness. So locked away is their private grief, that they often admit to feeling nothing, but the trauma clearly lives within them, hidden deep in their souls.

Thomas’s story is particularly harrowing as it emerges during the emotionally-charged first meeting with his birth mother that he was actually conceived after a one night stand. Clearly he is devastated, but remains dignified in front of his mother, suppressing the trauma that slowly seeps out in dramatic physical expressions during a trip around Seoul  – together with Karoline, where they both let off steam by going boating together and enjoy cocktails. For her part Karoline is less emotionally buttoned up but equally traumatised, especially during a meeting with a hospital adviser who tries to help but simply lacks the necessary resources to further the Korean girl’s inquiries. Clearly she is angry, but also disappointed.

Without resorting to sentimentality or even attempting to create a falsely romantic narrative arc, Choi paints a realistic and utterly convincing portrait of two people who cannot go forward until they have gone back – with satisfaction and closure. MT


Jonaki (2018) * * * * | Rotterdam International Film Festival

Dir.: Aditya Vikram Sengupta; Cast: Lolita Chatterjee, Ratnabali Bhattacharjee, Sumanto Chattopadhyay, Jim Sarbh; India/France/Singapore 2018, 97’.

Director/writer Aditya Vikram Sengupta follows his impressive debut Labour of Love with another love story set in a decaying world after the British left India and featuring a great comeback from 81 year old actress Lolita Chatterjee in the title role. Elliptical structure JONAKI (meaning firefly in Bengali) incorporates episodes from the life of beloved grandmother whose arranged marriage at the age of sixteen ruined her life.

Lying on her deathbed in hospital, Jonaki is lost in memories recalling the love her life, a young Christian man (Sarbh) she was forbidden to see by her strict mother (Bhattacharjee) and father (Chattopadhyay). Her parents want her to marry a rich man who runs his own business, and owns a local cinema. During British rule, Kolkata was made the capital of the “Jewel in the Crown”, that lead to the Indian upper classes in the city becoming quite wealthy: The magnificent locations featured in the film now look like a mixture of Buñuel’s Viridiana and Mrs. Havisham’s mansion in Great Expectations. But the old glory is gradually falling into decay, and Jonaki feels imprisoned in her home. Sengupta acts as his own DoP, creating ethereal and otherworldly images underlined by a unusual casting choices: Jonaki’s parents seem to be the same age as she was in her teens and early adulthood – whilst she is now eighty, and is criticised and often punished by much younger protagonists. Only her lover is the same age as she is, accentuating their spiritual bond.

There is a surreal and eerie quality running through this distinctive drama: In the dormitory of a girl’s Christian boarding school, the girls’ sleeping patterns sleep are synchronised, we also come across an orange-loving scientist who dreams of England and grows a horn on his forehead, which he later burns off. The local cinema is destroyed by fire, and is then replaced by a modern version – without seating. In the boarding school, oranges roll out of the rooms into the corridor; Sengupta partitions these rooms with glass walls and coloured windows, to allow the action to unfold simultaneously. At one point, we see poor Jonaki listening to her parents discussing her difficult behaviour in a room next door.

Jonaki falls between genres; the  viewer is drawn in and memerised by the ravishing images, the continuously changing lights and shadows. The episodic narrative is stringent, working like memory itself – meandering, reminiscing, leaving threads and picking them up again later. Sengupta offers his own cinematic vision, unique in todays’s so often predictable film landscape – and is all the better for it.AS




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